Past Fellowship / Grant

Global Futures Lab

RISD’s Global Futures Lab is a series of international workshops aimed at moving beyond stereotypical western visions of the future to invite partners and students at specific locations around the world to imagine the future in their own geo-cultural region.

Project partners will come together to discuss the themes explored through the Global Futures Lab, which was created in 2017 by RISD Associate Professor of Industrial Design Paolo Cardini as part of the college’s newly created Global Faculty Fellowship.


  • Isfahan, Iran
  • Havana, Cuba
  • Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Lima, Peru
  • Ahmedabad, India
Academic Year

Sep 1, 2016 — Jun 1, 2018

  • Industrial Design
Global Futures Lab
Global Futures Lab
Isfahan, Iran 2017
Global Futures Lab
Lima, Peru 2017

Global Futures Lab

The Global Futures Lab Project

Critical design, speculative design and design fiction are methodological frameworks in which objects are seen as facilitators of conversations rather than goods to be bought or used.

Bruce Sterling has defined design fiction as “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” Speculative objects, then, help people understand the future consequences of present choices perhaps even more effectively than virtual images or written text, and consequently, enable them to engage with transformation over time.

In the last decade, an impressive creative effort has been dedicated to this field, producing countless scenarios and fostering rich debates about ethics, technology and society. The vast majority of these future visions were and still are, however, a representation of the fears and the dreams of a limited part of the global community. Further, the aesthetic of this work has drawn liberally from the Hollywood imaginary or the design establishment’s style.

The Global Futures Lab is a series of international workshops that aims to counteract the bias and stereotypes of so-called “Western futures” and foster different futures linked to specific geo-cultural locations. Students from Isfahan (Iran), Ahmedabad (India), Lima (Peru), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Havana (Cuba) were invited to reflect on their environments, traditions and beliefs, and to envision futures respectful of their cultural needs and coherent with their distinct idea of progress.

In opposition to widespread technological determinism, in which society seems shaped by new technologies, the Global Futures Lab endorses a sort of “cultural determinism” in which any idea of the future should be built on localized visions, with an intention to open dialogue about pluralistic future perspectives.

Where the souvenirs from the futures come from

Global Futures Lab touched so far 5 locations involving more than 60 students from 6 different art, design and architecture Universities.

Our travel started in Iran where the Art University of Isfahan hosted the first workshop. After Iran was India at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, followed by Peru where we worked with students from the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru (PUCP) in Lima. The last two stops have been Cuba, where the Instituto Superior de Diseno (ISDI) opened its doors in Havana and finally Ethiopia where a collaboration between the Institute of Architecture (EiABC), the School of Fine Art and Design and Zoma Art Center, gave us students and places where to speculate.

The Selection of these initial locations was based on multiple factors. One of those was the presence of a strong craft heritage. In those places where artisans are still present and traditional artifact are still produced, we could most likely find a strongest cultural memory and a fertile ground to avoid any future aesthetics stereotypes. Another reason for the selection was the presence of contacts and referents who could help us open a dialogue with local institutions as a guaranty of a smooth process and a trusted commitment.

Last, but not the least, we tried to give a voice to different parts of the world, we tried to provide a grade of diversity based on cultural, political, religious or social perspectives. This list of places doesn't want to be definitive, and it didn't aim to be a full representation of a "non-western" perspective but instead, open a few windows on some unusual hyper-contextual vision of the future. Global Futures Lab aspires to keep collecting "Souvenirs from the Futures" and defining what global futures could look like.

Global Futures

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), with the support of the Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo (MAXXI), is hosting a symposium entitled Global Futures at MAXXI in Rome, Italy on March 2, 2018.

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Souvenirs from the Futures

The public is invited to the exhibition "Souvenirs from the Futures" on March 1 at 6:00 pm at 1/9unosunove gallery (via degli Specchi, 20 in Rome), featuring objects created by students who participated in the Lab at six different art, design and architecture universities around the world.

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Faculty Stories

Read more about Global Futures Lab in RISD News: Fostering Global Futures

Faculty Advising

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